As I said in my TSX-tease at midnight the other night, the four words I'd use to describe the new 2009 Acura TSX, would be "competent yet remarkably boring." But let's be clear, that's not to say the new TSX is bad — it's just, you know, not the best foot forward for the Acura brand. But there's a bit of a problem as the TSX is, and always has been, the entrée to Honda's luxe brand — a means to move buyers from those high-volume Accords to lesser-volumed, but higher profit Acuras.
I had high hopes for this new model — I'd spent a week behind the wheel of a 2006 TSX and found myself pleased enough with the responsiveness, handling and slightly-tweaked engine that I was willing to overlook some of what I perceived to be "issues" with the '06 model. One issue I'd had was the power provided by the 2.4-liter in-line four. Another was the numbness of steering. But, overlook them I did and it was easy to do, as the old TSX had a cabin that while sound-dampened, was not overly so — and it gave you the engine sound that could mask the reality of the car's real power output. Overall it was a fun little four-door that, while not overly memorable, didn't find many haters. So the bar for the new model ain't what you'd call overly high.
The new TSX not only meets the bar, it exceeds it. Unfortunately, it's the wrong bar. For starters, let's take a look at the new-look of the exterior. For starters, the front of the car gets the new double-plenum grille already found on the new 2009 RL. While some may like the wide-mouthed front, I did not. Same is true for the interior, which blends plastics like a SoCal fruit smoothie shop.
But materials aside, the interior's got some nice qualities. There's the driver's seat, which bolsters you competently in the corners and there's also the Technology Package which includes the Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition and the neat-o AcuraLink Real-time traffic and weather systems that give you dynamic traffic rerouting in your navigation around jams. There's also the Bluetooth hands-free system included as a standard, as well as a really easy-to-use standard USB port that'll do a commendable job of integrating your iPod with the killer Elliot Scheiner-tuned 10-speaker sound system. Also, the big, thick steering wheel felt comfortable and firm in my hands. It also felt numb.
Seriously, the 2009 takes that particular quality to an all new bar-busting high. I felt as distant from the road in the new TSX as I'd felt in the 747 flying into LAX the day before. It's not just the steering that had as little feeling as a college one-night stand, it was also the enhanced sound dampening. While it may help make the '09 TSX quiet as a tomb, it also denies one the sound one would hope for from an actual sports sedan.
But, with some pushing and prodding, the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine of the 2009 Acura TSX was able to provide some pleasant sounds but not the true satisfying engine note you expect from a real sports sedan. Along the twists and turns of the SoCal two-lane state roads, I found myself able to generate the sounds I was looking for out of the little mid-size four-door. Unfortunately, there was precious little room left 'til I hit the redline and that necessary shift up to fourth gear. I'd get a little bit of what I was looking for with each and every turn, but it never seemed enough to truly fill my enjoyment meter.
But the demographic for the TSX may not be searching for the same thing I was. Acura tells me the four purchase reasons given by buyers are:
1.) A well-made vehicle
2.) A fully-featured vehicle
3.) A reliable vehicle
4.) A reasonable price or deal offered
This contrasts sharply with the top four reasons I normally use to make my purchasing decisions. Those are:
1.) Fun to drive
2.) Fun to drive
3.) Fun to drive
4.) Dependable...in the car's ability to be fun to drive
So maybe the TSX isn't for someone like me. But Acura's hoping it'll be for some more buyers then they'd had in the past few years — with a desired sales target of 40,000 units — 7,000 more than targets for the previous generation. So if what you're looking for is a little bit more than what you can get from the standard fare of mid-sized sedans, you may find yourself looking at the new TSX, but if you do, realize that it's just not a luxury sports sedan. Even an "entry-level" one. What you will find yourself with is an over-priced Accord.
The 2009 TSX may be the entry-level for the Acura brand, but frankly we expect more from the bottom rung of the ladder from any luxe brand given the competition from the likes of BMW, Lexus and Infiniti. Maybe our minds could be changed with a diesel or higher-powered option, however neither is currently available.
(Hat tip to Jeff @ Temple of VTEC for help on the car-to-car photos!)